05 July 2014

Discover Juan Gabriel Vasquez

"The Sound of Things Falling"

"I was surprised by how little effort it took me to summon up the words I had spoken or heard, things I'd seen, pain I'd suffered and now overcome; I was also surprised by the alacrity and dedication we devote to the damaging exercise of remembering, which, after all, brings nothing good and serves only to hinder our normal functioning, like those bags of sand athletes tie around their calves for training."
So the narrator of this fascinating novel tells us early on, even as he spends much of the story searching for meaning through memory, through the memory of others.
            Vasquez who recently won the Impac Dublin award for international fiction, seems to wish to sever the connection between Colombian literature, cemented by the great Garcia Marquez, and magical realism, replacing it with more literal realism, which he paints with brunt force and thick brushstrokes. “I want to forget this absurd rhetoric of Latin America as a magical or marvelous continent. In my novel there is a disproportionate reality, but that which is disproportionate in it is the violence and cruelty of our history and of our politics."
            A young law professor in Bogota plays billiards after class with a man named Laverde, who is rumored to have recently returned from a long prison sentence, but soon after, Laverde is fatally shot at a bar, with Antonio, the victim of collateral damage. Antonio has only recently settled into married life because of an unexpected pregnancy, another of the surprises he contends with as he tries to make sense of his city's history and future.
            We witness Antonio's desperate determination to discover who Laverde was and why he was shot, which will take the reader to flashbacks of Laverde's young life and his love affair and subsequent marriage to an American Peace Corps worker, who was killed the very same day as the shooting when her flight goes down en route to Colombia after an eighteen year absence, having returned to the US when Colombia in the eighties was unsafe for their daughter, Maya. It is Maya who ultimately holds the key, making it possible for Antonio to deconstruct his country's violent history and the nature of the drug culture, which, suggested in this novel, may have been precipitated by Americans from the Peace Corps as well as CIA.
            Vasquez also deftly weaves historical facts of interest, including a striking depiction of a zoo established in the 1970's by the dictator Pablo Escobar, which went to ruin when he passed in the early nineties, and may represent for Vasquez the trap of the Columbian people.
            The novel is riveting. Elegiac, heart wrenching, but not sentimental, severe without a heavy hand. These younger Latin American writers are bringing a new literary sensibility to their canon, and while they honor the legacy of masters like Garcia Marquez, Cervantes, Bolano and Saramago, they offer a fresh perspective and fresh voices. "A life unlived, a life that runs through one's fingers, a life one suffers through while knowing it belongs to someone else: to those who don't have to suffer." 
Read this fabulous novel and be among the first to discover a spectacular writer.

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